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W.Va. has plenty to offer overseas, Rockefeller says

March 02, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginians often must overcome the perception that they can't compete internationally in business before they try, said U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller.

Rockefeller, D-W.Va., spoke to about 90 people Monday night at the Bavarian Inn as part of Shepherd College's International Business and Economics Training Conference.

"The world is an oyster and if we don't pick it, it's nobody's fault but our own," Rockefeller said.

The conference drew business and economic development officials from across West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, said organizer Hannah Geffert, assistant to the provost for academic affairs at Shepherd College. The conference continues today with lectures on doing business in Russia, India and the Middle East.

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Rockefeller said the first thing West Virginians have to overcome is their belief that they cannot compete globally.

"It's for us to believe in ourselves first," Rockefeller said.

Most people think nearly 90 percent of state workers are employed by coal mines, when in reality only 6 percent are, Rockefeller said.

"People in West Virginia have portfolios that allow them to compete anywhere internationally," Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller spoke highly of a West Virginia inventor, Donald Gallion Jr., president of FCX Systems in Morgantown, W.Va., who has won several contracts with China to provide electronic equipment for its new airports.

"In 10 years, he's going to be a billionaire," Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller said he's worked to help bring Asian businesses, such as Toyota and Ten Inc., to the state and he's also helped West Virginians export their products to Asian markets.

Rockefeller said when he was West Virginia's governor, he made a mistake by not opening a trade office in Japan.

"The whole idea of opening a trade office was seen as a total waste of taxpayer dollars," Rockefeller said. "That was a terrible mistake on my part."

The state has since opened a trade office in Japan - not in Tokyo, where office space was too expensive and all the other states have their offices - but in Nagoya, where Toyota and other firms have their corporate headquarters, Rockefeller said.

The trade office and trade missions show the Asian business and political leaders that West Virginia is serious about being an economic partner.

"They have to see you as a friend in a larger sense and not just someone hustling for their dollars," Rockefeller said.

Part of the partnership means he works closely with Gov. Cecil Underwood, a Republican.

"Cecil Underwood and I work extremely well on these types of things. I can matchmake, but I can't put up the water and sewer money. Only the governor can," Rockefeller said.

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